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Conservation planning for sea turtles in Kenya

Date Published: 10 Feb, 2011
Conservation planning for sea turtles in Kenya

Sea Turtle

Five species of sea turtles are found in Kenya;  the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) nest and forage in Kenya while the loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) use Kenya’s waters as migratory routes and foraging grounds. The cultural and socio-economic values of sea turtles drive illegal harvesting of sea turtles for meat, oil and eggs. Degradation of sea turtle habitats is also a major threat. The most exploited species’ include the green turtle, the olive ridley and the hawksbill. Sea turtles also face the most critical threat from fisheries through incidental capture in set gillnets and trawl nets. These fishing gears cause either drowning through entanglement or sea turtles are opportunistically harvested by the fishermen. Additionally, other threats include loss and degradation of nesting and foraging grounds from coastal developments, pollution from land based sources, marine debris, oil spills, oil and gas exploration, predation of hatchlings and juveniles, diseases and emerging threats related to climate change.

Due to their unique ecology and migratory nature, the myriad of threats sea turtles face has led to drastic global population declines. Two of the species utilizing Kenya’s territorial waters are listed as critically endangered while three are listed as endangered. Effective management and recovery of Kenya’s sea turtle populations can only be achieved through implementation of a national strategy that links into regional and international initiatives to protect nesting beaches and critical foraging habitats from degradation, eliminate illegal harvesting and trade in sea turtles and their products, mitigate fisheries impacts, and enhance collaborative participation of local communities and other stakeholders in conservation.

The Kenya Wildlife Service through its Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Division convened a meeting in November 2007 for representatives of all key stakeholders in sea turtle conservation. It is from this forum, that the Kenya National Sea Turtle Conservation Taskforce was constituted and later endorsed by the Kenya Wildlife Service Board of Trustees. The taskforce was given the responsibility to develop a national sea turtle conservation and management strategy, which would provide a coordinated framework for the conservation of sea turtles in Kenya. The national sea turtle conservation and management strategy has gone through several development stages since November 2008 and finally endorsed at a National Stakeholders’ Workshop held in Mombasa in April 2009.

The strategy is intended to guide efforts in conservation and management of sea turtles and their habitats. The main tools to be utilized towards the realization of this strategy include advocacy, communication, education, public awareness, targeted research and monitoring, and threat mitigation. Ultimately, the wider participation of the local communities and other stakeholders, including scientists, government and non-governmental institutions is to be realized. The strategy builds on ongoing efforts and initiates changes that will add value to sea turtle conservation efforts. The strategy is also aligned to international and regional conservation conventions and agreements. It also contributes towards the realization of the Vision 2030, which recognizes tourism as a major sector towards economic empowerment and to the increasing international value of eco-tourism in relation to species conservation.

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